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"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28, 2011 God's Okay & We're on the Way

In 1972, Thomas Harris published a book entitled I’m Okay, You’re Okay. I heard a speaker refer negatively to the basic precept presented in the book, actually pointing to the very life positions about which Harris wrote. “It’s not a matter of ‘I’m okay, you’re okay. It’s not a matter of ‘I’m okay, but you’re not’ or ‘you’re okay but I’m not’. In reality, it’s more like ‘I’m not okay…and you’re not okay’. But that’s okay!’”

We are all “in process,” all on life’s journey, all at different stages. We are moving, if not physically, along the timelines of our existence on Planet Earth. No one knows at what point he or she is on, how many years are left, how many lessons still required. Who am I to say you’re traveling too fast or too slow? Who are you to suggest I’m better off going east than west, or point out that my choice of luggage is out of date? We would be doing each other much better service as fellow human beings if we simply got out of each others’ way more often, or at least offered to carry some of the load.

None of us is “okay” in the sense that anyone has it all figured out. Perfection has only been lived out by Jesus – Buddha tried and failed, Mohammed tried and failed, saints and sinners from Adam to Zebulun have tried and failed. Some show better outward progress than others, but no on else hits the bulls-eye of God’s holiness every single second. It’s hard to argue with a book that’s sold a gazillion copies and been on the New York Times bestseller list, but people are not so easily put into such tidy boxes unless it’s the one colossal box that says “unfinished.”

I was thinking of some personal changes this week as we are packing up to move back to Florida. Packing is not a new concept, but this time it caught me off guard. As nearly as I can figure it, I have moved 25 times in the last 53 years, an average of moving every 2.12 years. That's a lot of packing.

Born in Anderson, South Carolina I moved at around age 3 to Cullowhee, North Carolina. From there my family headed south to Fort Pierce, Florida when I was 9. The bulk of packing and unpacking happened in St. Lucie County, from one home to another. I got married. We rented. We moved. We lived in the mountains, then in Albemarle, North Carolina while David worked on various projects. We built our first house. In between moves, we managed to have four children. Built a second house. Then came missionary training in Texas, the biggest move ever to India and back, temporary housing upon our return, another house built, another.

God has blessed recent moves in tremendous ways. We sold out in Florida when real estate was incredibly high in St. Lucie County. Next week we will buy when real estate is incredibly low there – tough for the local economy, but a smart time for anyone needing to buy (or wanting to get out of debt). In between we’ve had acreage, raised livestock, done the ranch thing. The last house we have been in (until next week) is big enough, we thought, that we could live comfortably here forever. Room for the live-in grandchildren to grow up in, plenty of breathing space, woods all around. Ten acres to do with whatever we chose over the years, over the rest of our lives.

Enter Plan B.

It began a year ago, when financial wisdom pointed to selling and downsizing. We put our house on the market, began looking for older homes in town. There were advantages – I could walk to work, we could get out from under a mortgage and credit card bills. We showed the house to several enthusiastic families, but no contracts were signed.

Then, what seemed to be twist in the road. In December, my husband David decided that we should return to Florida. This from a man who worked outside in the Florida heat trying not to get “bear caught,” who’d claimed he would never, ever live in Florida again! For him to make such an abrupt, radical change in his thinking…well, he interpreted this as divine leading. That decision made, we had a contract on our house within a matter of weeks.

Our move to North Carolina had meant (for me) giving up an excellent job, a great support system, but the hope of having time to write more and help raise grandchildren. Our move back to Florida means giving up an excellent job, a great support system, and the hope (again) of having time to write more and help raise grandchildren, but who can say what will happen in the next few years?

Obviously it’s not all about me. It may not be any about me. But one thing I do know – the Ellen returning to Florida is not the same one who moved to North Carolina. I’ve changed, grown up a little – a good thing to do when you’re approaching 50, then passing it.

What have I learned in the last five and a half years? That God uses surprising, sometimes baffling methods. That he uses whatever and whomever in our lives to guide us in his direction if we are open to his plans and purposes. For example, he has used some challenging circumstances to reveal a problem with co-dependency….something I would have denied and argued against vehemently in years past. Not I!

I’ve learned that being self-aware and taking care of me isn’t necessarily selfish. And I am delighted to find that after more than a decade, God is giving joy back into my life for more than just moments at a time. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m not complaining. I don’t know why he waited so long to send it. I don’t begin to understand his methodology, but I am loving it. A lot of things in life are overrated – joy is not one of them.

Could God have sent joy to me in Florida all these years, taught me the same lessons there, saving time, money, energy? Apparently not. Because God is faithful to lead us where he needs and wants us to be, to bring certain people into our lives, to use us in certain peoples’ lives along the way. That assumes, of course, that we have followed perfectly, and I am quite sure we have not. But I am confident that even if we had dug in our heels, stubbornly staying put when he was pointing northward, he would have used that too.

God uses our mistakes, our sins, our disastrous decisions. He uses the people who hurt us as well as the people who cheer us on. He is God. He never misses an opportunity to further his kingdom within us and all around us, never wastes an incident, is never surprised by a sudden turn of events.

Some people accuse Christians of making God in their own image, but there is nothing more foolish. God isn’t anything like I would make him! Isaiah 55:9 tells us that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are (God’s) ways higher than (our) ways and (his) thoughts than (our) thoughts” (NIV). I could fret or argue or turn away from God because he doesn’t act like the Santa Claus in the sky I really hoped for, someone who always answered my prayers the way I wanted and in the time frame I demanded, but to me, it is a tremendous comfort that God doesn’t do my bidding. This sometimes annoying, sometimes infuriating characteristic of God only cements my belief in his existence and sovereignty.

When David began talking about Florida, it was a little scary for me, I must admit. I have friends now in North Carolina to whom it will be painful to say good-bye. I have family here, as well as there; I fret about leaving them. I’ve had a great time here doing many things I enjoy. I’ve branched out, done more, been affirmed in many ways, learned important lessons about myself. And now, God is sending me somewhere to (perhaps) have those very lessons challenged, possibly misunderstood or rejected. The people who “knew me when” may or may not like the changes they observe.

To some, I may no longer be “okay.” I may not find some of their attitudes and behavior as “okay” as I once did. And that’s okay! I can trust God to work in this move as he has in all those other moves, to continue teaching and leading and guiding and directing and changing and growing me up into the woman he wants me to be. And that’s more than okay with me, because he alone is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20, NIV).

Now…if I could just remember where I packed my toothbrush.

P.S. For the last several years, Crossroads Church in Lillington, North Carolina has considered this blog to be part of their outreach. I want to thank Dr. Ken Dalton and the rest of church leadership for the opportunity to write "for them." Now, as we leave Crossroads and Lillington, the blog will continue (hopefully) but will probably go through some changes. But that's okay!

Permission to reprint with acknowledgement of source.

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18, 2011 Acts of God

In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider— God has made the one as well as the other.

Ecclesiastes 7:14a (NASV)

April 16, 2011 will go down in North Carolina’s history as the day that tornados whipped across the state, chewing up buildings and trees in its path. Besides the tragic death of three boys in the care of a relative who did all the right things in Raleigh to insure their safety, the destruction of Lowe’s Home Improvement in Sanford around 3:00 p.m. that day is perhaps the most recognizable result. When news reports flash, the store’s wreckage is displayed prominently, the poster child, of sorts, for the storm’s destruction.

My husband David works…worked…at the store. It was unusual for him to be working April 16, the second weekend in a row. It had actually never happened before, that I can recall.

I was in the Emergency Room of Chatham County Hospital in Siler City with my mother engaged in our own particular drama when my cell phone rang at 3:22. Mama was out of the room having an x-ray taken. I didn’t recognize the number.

“Lowe’s is gone,” David’s voice said. He had borrowed a phone from a co-worker just long enough to tell me he was unhurt. About an hour later, he called from home to say his truck, though badly damaged, had been drivable. He was sopping wet but home safe. He kept replaying it all in his mind, he said, but there were no ill-effects.

In the meantime, I had texted our children and pastor about David’s escape from harm…actually everyone’s escape. From photos you would expect numerous deaths and injuries, but workers and customers walked out almost as easily as they had walked in. I’d been on my mother’s laptop, posting news on Facebook, looking for news. Power was out in Lillington, an hour away. Friends were chatting back and forth, announcing when power was restored, encouraging one another, praising God when storms passed with little damage.

It is common to hear tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunami, earthquakes and the like referred to as “acts of God,” giving at least tacit acknowledgement to the fact that God exists and is capable of incomprehensible power. The Creator of the universes can do as he wills with that Creation, just as any potter can decide to rework the clay, or smash even the most beautiful vase. And God can do whatever he wants to do with either his earth or his earthlings.

God, however, mostly stays out of the intervention business, at least from all outward appearance. He does not step in routinely to stop tyrants or prevent birth defects or heal disease. When he does…and he does… it is so unusual that we call it a miracle.

I asked David what had gone through his mind as he waited for the tornado to pass. People had run into the store, warning everyone that it was approaching, giving them time to move away from the front windows, to seek better shelter. David had only enough time to lie down before he heard the telltale freight train sound of the funnel cloud. He closed his eyes, listening to the roof pull away from the walls, and then it was all over.

He didn’t see his life flash before his eyes. He was not conscious of a particular thought. Not even a prayer.

“I felt it would be okay,” he said. “I was surprised that there was so much devastation…I really thought it was just going to pass us over.” But his sense that he was going to be okay held true. Not a scratch.

We are two weeks away from closing on the sale of our house and moving back to Florida. The tornado could just as easily have plowed through our property as anyone else’s. There were over 20 fatalities related to the weekend storms; my husband’s name could just as easily have been on that list.

God received much credit and praise on April 16, communicated via text, phone, Facebook, and e-mail not only because David and others were spared, but because Harnett County did not see the level of devastation as surrounding counties. Indeed, God is worthy to be praised.

But I fall back to the thought that he is just as worthy to be praised when everything a family owns is pulled up into a whirlwind and disappears. When a marriage ends. When a job is lost. When madmen commit genocide. When terrorists do the unthinkable. When we watch as the monitor by a loved one’s bedside slows, then stops.

Our praise when all goes well is appropriate, but our praise when it all seems to be going to hell in a hand basket is even more so. Praise in the midst of trials and tribulation makes a statement to heaven’s throne room, to the enemy of our souls, and indeed, to the universe. God does not always act as we would act, does not always prevent that which we fear, does not always follow the shopping list of what passes for prayer much of the time.

But he is still God, and we will never be. We do not have to understand the why’s, as long as we know the character of who we worship, because we can always trust that he has the wisdom we lack, that he sees the end from the beginning, and that he “ works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV).

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

April 2, 2011 Meeting God Beyond

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,there is a field.

I will meet you there.

When I bought someone a vibrantly colored print with the quotation shown above, I didn’t know who the poet was. According to Wikiquote: “Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi or مولانا جلال الدين محمد بلخى Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi (30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273) was a Persian philosopher, theologian, poet, teacher, and founder of the Mevlevi (or Mawlawi) order of Sufism; also known as Mevlana (Our Guide), Jalaluddin Rumi, or simply Rumi.”

Something about the words grabbed me, or I wouldn’t have been so drawn to it, even with the beautiful artwork. What does it mean, though, and should I be quoting a Muslim poet in the first place…now that I know who “Rumi” is? Aren’t there enough Christian mystics down through history?

Yes, but they don’t have the monopoly on wisdom. That belongs to the Bible, and I would argue that Rumi, perhaps unknowingly, perhaps as a sincere seeker of truth, stumbled upon biblical truth.

In Genesis we read the story of the Fall of Man. God creates man and woman, gives them work to do in the Garden of Eden, shows them one tree from which they may not eat. Regardless of attempts in the past to assign the blame of original sin to All Things Sexual, the tree is clearly named in scripture: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why would God not want Adam and Eve to partake of its fruit? Good and evil exist — wouldn’t God want them, and by extension us, to know the difference? Recognition of good and evil is essential to making correct and wise choices, isn’t it?

Apparently not. When God told his perfect couple living in his perfect garden to steer clear of the tree, he didn’t have restriction in mind, but freedom. Before they tasted the forbidden fruit, they had access to every other fruit in all of creation. Because they disobeyed the one little rule they were given, they lost it all. Instead of tending the trees in God’s garden, they had to toil under difficult circumstances and raise food for themselves.

Creation only makes sense when we begin not at Genesis 1:1, but at John 1:1:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (NIV).

Jesus was. Before creation. Before time. The very name of God that was given to Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery is an enimga: I am that I am. I will be what I will be. I am. Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection were planned before the first star was hung in space, because an omnipotent Godhead saw the need for a perfect sacrifice for sin before breath — before spirit — was breathed into the very first sinners.

Adam and Eve’s disobedience was no surprise to God. He walked and talked with them in perfection, yet they had free wills, independence, without which their love and devotion would mean nothing. God knew they would use their independence wrongly, succomb to temptation. The kind of tree or fruit didn’t matter — it was simply the one thing about which they were told “No.”

However, God gets mileage out of everything; the tree he forbade offers an important lesson to us still. God never intended for us to decide right and wrong, good and evil, in our own strength and wisdom. He never intended for us to make up lists of the Do’s and Don’ts so prevalent today, especially within all flavors of religion. This is the path! Do this, and you will be saved! If you do this, you’ll burn in hell!

Instead, God’s intention is that I meet with him in Rumi’s field — the one he described, anyway. Back in that perfect, pre-sin garden. Just God and I. God of all wisdom and love and power, source of everything that can meet each of my many needs, needs he placed within me. Beyond what I think of as rightdoing and wrongdoing, beyond what I think about anything, really. Just God and I. There, the Holy Spirit can blow the cobwebs of my thoughts and experiences and what others have projected on me from my mind, can breathe life into every nook and cranny. There, he can teach me Truth…not what I think is truth, but Truth that is the very person of Jesus Christ.

The old hymn had it spot-on:

In The Garden

I come to the garden alone While the dew is still on the roses And the voice I hear falling on my ear The Son of God discloses.

Refrain: And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own; And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice, Is so sweet the birds hush their singing, And the melody that He gave to me Within my heart is ringing. Refrain

I’d stay in the garden with Him Though the night around me be falling, But He bids me go; through the voice of woe His voice to me is calling. Refrain

---Words: Charles Austin Miles (1912)

In that field, that garden spot, he talks to me about the times I have done the right thing for the wrong reason. He talks to me about the times I have done the wrong thing, but was motivated by love. He can talk to me about being merciful to the people in my life who have hurt me out of their own ignorance, their own wrong motives, their own wrong attempts to be Right.

Proverbs 3:5 makes it clear that we are to “trust in the Lord with all (our) heart and lean not on (our) own understanding. Yet, so often we do the opposite, thinking ourselves mature and rational and wise, even spiritual. God beckons us to come play in a field, and we are too busy cataloguing all the reasons why we can’t.